The Prodigal Son Returns – 2 Samuel 14

After exacting his revenge on his elder brother Amnon, Absalom went into a self-imposed exile in the neighbouring kingdom of Geshur. Even after the heinous murder of his elder son, David still longed for Absalom, and Joab who was the closest confidant of the king knew about it. He concocted a story which was reminiscent of the parable that Nathan the prophet told David, to rebuke him when he was living a lie. This time the parable was neither from God nor the messenger was a prophet, instead, Joab chose a wise woman from Tekoa to carry out his plan. Perhaps he thought that he could trap the king with his parable, much like Nathan did and to accomplish this he asked the woman to dress in mourning clothes to better sell his story to the king.

The Story

When the woman from Tekoa went to the king, she fell with her face to the ground to pay him honor, and she said, “Help me, Your Majesty!”
The king asked her, “What is troubling you?”
She said, “I am a widow; my husband is dead. I your servant had two sons. They got into a fight with each other in the field, and no one was there to separate them. One struck the other and killed him. Now the whole clan has risen up against your servant; they say, ‘Hand over the one who struck his brother down, so that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed; then we will get rid of the heir as well.’ They would put out the only burning coal I have left, leaving my husband neither name nor descendant on the face of the earth.”

2 Samuel 14:4-7 (NIV)

The woman had a compelling story of societal injustice. She was already a widow and in order for her to claim her stake over her husband’s property and other possessions, she needed the support of a male heir. And now that one of her sons had killed the other, her clan had risen up against the remaining son. If they would be successful in executing him, the woman would lose her only source of livelihood and would have ended up as destitute. The story depicted how the Jewish laws were not meant for the benefit of the women in the society and Joab wanted to use it to trigger David’s emotions.

The king said to the woman, “Go home, and I will issue an order in your behalf.”
But the woman from Tekoa said to him, “Let my lord the king pardon me and my family, and let the king and his throne be without guilt. ”

2 Samuel 14:8-9 (NIV)

The Avenger of Blood

The woman pleaded to the king to send out a proclamation that would prevent anyone from harming her son. She even invoked the name of the Lord in vain to add more gravity to her story. According to Jewish laws, when someone is killed by another man, the closest relative of the deceased is responsible to put the murderer to death (Numbers 35:19). This person is known as the avenger of blood who avenges the death of his loved one. The woman was pleading with the king to protect her from the avenger of blood who was out to destroy her family. However, what the story was subtly implying was the murder of Amnon at the hands of his brother Absalom and David being the avenger of Amnon’s blood.

The woman said, “Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? When the king says this, does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son?…

But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.

2 Samuel 14:13-14 (NIV)

The woman seems to be invoking a false equivalency when she says that God does not desire anyone to remain banished. She is using God’s love for mankind and the grace that He shows us as a blueprint for the king to bring back Absalom. Even God doesn’t bring back someone unless they have repented and there were no signs that Absalom even regretted what he had done, let alone be repenting. This was all to put misguided pressure on David by using their own concepts and not knowing the love that the king had for his sons. We create our own concepts and perceptions when we misinterpret the word of God. Rather than looking to God to lead us down the correct path, we twist His own words to fulfil the desires of our hearts. We even take the name of our God in vain just to get our will done. Joab used a moving story, coupled with flawed Jewish laws and invoked the word of God to convince the king to bring back Absalom but David was privy to his plan.

The king asked, “Isn’t the hand of Joab with you in all this?”

2 Samuel 14:19 (NIV)

Being the commander of David’s army, Joab was the second in command and answered only to the king. David was his uncle and given the pair had spent a considerable number of years on the run from Saul, they would have formed an indelible bond. But even after having a close relationship with David, Joab did not directly approach the king with his request, instead used the wise woman and the hypothetical example to convince the king to change his mind about Absalom. Perhaps Joab had already mentioned several times to the king about bringing back Absalom before sending the wise woman. Absalom was beautiful and fit the bill for being the king that Israel always wanted.

However, if Joab had himself recited the widow’s ‘story’ to David, it would not have had the same impact. Recounting someone else’s sorrow does not have the same effect as it would if it came from the person who has actually suffered through it. Also, if Joab was reciting the story, David would have recognised his intentions from a mile away and stopped him midway. Joab knew the king’s heart longed for his exiled son but Joab does not want to go against the will of David directly. On the other hand, David is trying to balance his role as a judge, a king and a father but was failing miserably. So Joab uses a parable to try to break the king the stance by using the logical application of someone else’s story to the king’s own family.

Absalom Returns

Then Joab went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. But the king said, “He must go to his own house; he must not see my face.” So Absalom went to his own house and did not see the face of the king.

2 Samuel 14:23-24 (NIV)

David granted permission to Joab to bring back Absalom but did not want to even see his face. The travel back from Geshur would have been a long way for Absalom, just to stay in a separate house away from the king’s presence. The optics of having his murderous son come back from exile avoiding punishment, only to stay in the king’s palace would not have looked good politically. There was still Amnon’s family to think about who would have also hated the idea of the killer of their father escaping punishment much less living in the king’s palace. Or perhaps David was giving more time to Absalom to truly repent of his sins. Whatever the reason be, David still maintained a safe distance from his returning son and that seemed to irk Absalom immensely as he had his own political ambitions.

Absalom said to Joab, … “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!”’ Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.”

2 Samuel 14:32 (NIV)

Absalom wanted more facetime with the king, perhaps to enhance his own political endeavours and desperately needed to be in some sort of power but when the king did not see him for two whole years, he sent for Joab to intercede on his behalf again. This time Joab did not oblige, as he ghosted Absalom. Incensed by Joab’s non-intervention, Absalom burned down his fields to get his attention. This did not seem like the actions of someone who is getting back on the right path. This should have been a red flag for Joab but he went to David and interceded on Absalom’s behalf again, perhaps to prevent any further damage to his property.

So Joab went to the king and told him this. Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom.

2 Samuel 14:33 (NIV)

When Nathan came to David with the parable of the ewe lamb, he was sent by God to bring the king back on the correct path but that set precedence for others to try the same. One parable was from God and the other was from satan as it resulted in the destruction and even loss of lives. David did not need the parable, if God wanted him to bring back Absalom, He would have done so Himself. He did not need people distorting His word and making a mockery of His name just to convince a stubborn king. It was satan’s plan to bring Absalom back as it posed a threat to God’s plan for David’s lineage.

In hindsight, it is easy to judge the two parables because we know what happened next but what do we do when this happens in our lives? We must talk to God ourselves and find out His plans for us. A happy ending is not a guarantee that the will of God is accomplished in one’s life but it is usually the opposite. When Nathan came to David with a parable from God, it did not result in a happy ending for the king as he lost his son. The outcomes do not determine if we are following the voice of God but rather it is the journey with Him. Are we growing closer day by day to Him or are we slowly drifting apart in pursuit of our happy endings.

Discussion Questions

  • 14:3 – Why couldn’t Joab go to David directly and instead used a parable?
  • 14:11 – What does avenger of blood mean?
  • 14:14 – Is it true that God devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him?
  • 14:20 – Why is Joab bringing Absalom back (Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation)?
  • 14:23 – Why is David calling Absalom back but not even seeing his face?

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